The Long-Term Impact Of Conflict On Food Security In Africa

The requirements for sustainable peace and the motives of conflict fluctuate intensively and differ sporadically throughout the world. The link between hunger and conflict, however, is one that remains all too persistent, according to a joint report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP). Published early in 2019 and briefed towards the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the report stresses the impact of conflict in disrupting food security and thereby encouraging future violence in Africa. The publication of the report is especially relevant in response to the latest round of peace talks between the Central African Republic (CAR) and 14 rebel groups, a “forgotten conflict” as described by the International Committee of The Red Cross, that has left almost 2 million people in dire need of food and livelihood assistance.

FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva stressed the importance of the report in raising awareness for the many victims of conflict and food insecurity in Africa, stating that “behind these seemifufngly dry statistics are real people experiencing rates of hunger that are simply unacceptable in the twenty-first century”. Sustainable ways of living in Africa have become increasingly difficult, following violent conflict and the impact of environmental degradation. The report highlights that, as a result of conflict, many abandon their farms, resulting in an overall decrease in agricultural activities. Moreover, the nature of conflict in the region, such as cattle raiding, not only further disrupts the agricultural sector leading to increased food insecurity but also encourages retaliation in the form of revenge violence, the report states. The Famine and Early Warning System Network (FEWS) have also reiterated the negative impact of below-average rainfall on crop development throughout most of the region.

In response to the importance of a cessation of conflict, Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, has praised the “leadership role” of the African Union (AU) in promoting and leading the peace talks between CAR and the rebel groups. Dujarric also urged all parties involved to “live up to their commitments in the implementation period”. To fulfil these commitments, it is important to fully comprehend the direct link between hunger and conflict in CAR, especially since almost 75% of the population live below the international poverty line, according to the World Bank. To do this, it is also important to understand the situation surrounding the country’s natural resources, such as gold and diamonds, and the impact of climate change in fuelling the conflict. This is significant as the report by the FAO and WFP highlights that environmental effects of drought, for example, can “exacerbate existing tensions and increase the likelihood of violence in communities that are agriculturally dependent, already vulnerable and/or politically marginalized”. Whilst CAR currently resides in a process of peace with various armed groups, the concepts of ‘environmental peacebuilding’ should be considered in an approach to prevent and recover from conflict by managing natural resources. This process of resource sharing would vitally encourage trust-building and entrust a level of needed resilience in the population.

Guaranteeing food security remains a difficult challenge throughout the world, though especially in Africa. This does not halter the dedication nor ambition of the African culture that is displayed within the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which establishes, among many, the Right to Natural Resources and the Right to Participation in Cultural Heritage. The difficulty in enacting these, however, is ingrained by the fact that many African countries are often constrained with internal and external conflicts, such as civil wars and political instability, which consume most of a country’s resources. Labelled as one of the world’s poorest countries yet possessing an abundance of rich resources in gold and diamonds, the consecutive peace agreements that have failed in CAR is such an instance where food security, amongst other human rights, is currently, and has been throughout its history, under threat.

The importance of the joint report by the FAO and WFP is its ability to raise awareness for the direct link between hunger and conflict. Whilst CAR remains a large recipient of humanitarian assistance, more needs to be done, especially by members of the UNSC, protect food security. Whilst current peace talks are ongoing in CAR, this can be done by collaborating with the AU in facilitating trust-building initiatives around natural resources. The impacts of climate change in damaging agriculture and aggravating tensions must also be recognised not only in CAR but around Africa. The Africa Climate Week, hosted in Ghana next month, forms an imperative platform to discuss this and to plan for a sustainable and peaceful future.